How a Ukrainian zoologist saved 1,000 bats

Anton Vlashenko is risking his life to protect bats during the invasion of Ukraine by Russia
Hi there! Just one of the many bats being cared for by Anton and his team. (Anton Vlashenko)

TRIGGER WARNING: This story details certain aspects of the current conflict in Ukraine. We recommend reading it alongside a trusted adult who can answer questions that you may have.

On February 24, 2022, Russian forces invaded the country of Ukraine. Ever since then, battles between their armies have continued, with Ukrainian forces trying to push the Russians out.

This conflict has affected life across the entire nation—in particular, along the northeastern, eastern, and southeastern borders of Ukraine, which are nearest to Russia. And this includes animal life in these areas, as war affects their habitats as well.

One person who has refused to let the war stop him from helping animals is a zoologist named Anton Vlashenko. He has been studying and working with bats for 20 years. Recently, CBC radio did an interview with him where he detailed how he risked his life to save 1,000 bats!

Life in Kharkiv

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The invasion has damaged and destroyed many buildings in Kharkiv. (Getty Embed)

Anton lives and works in Kharkiv, which is in the northeast of Ukraine and is the country's second-largest city. It has been exposed to some of the worst fighting of the war.

Russian forces made it a major target of their invasion. Although they never fully captured the city, they occupied many surrounding areas and they regularly attacked it. By September, Ukrainian forces had successfully pushed the Russians back towards their border. Even so, Kharkiv still experiences intermittent (random) attacks by long distance Russian weapons.

The bat collider

Kharkiv is also the location of Feldman Ecopark, which is a zoo. Inside the zoo is a large circular pen (cage) called the Bat Collider.

On one hand, this was a place where the public could get up close and personal with the bats, as you can see in the video below!

But the Bat Collider was more than just an attraction for the public. It was a place where experts like Anton could bring injured and orphaned newborn bats, helping them to heal and even learn to fly.

The cage could hold up to 3,000 bats at once, and was especially helpful in a country with harsh winters like Ukraine (Ukraine's climate is very similar to much of Canada). Many bats hibernated safely here over the winter.

Time to move

Just before the war broke out, many bats were moved into the collider. The sudden attacks around the country left the bats in danger. Instead of being able to move, they were stuck hibernating in one place.

So even as attacks came across the city, he threw together a team and went to Feldman Ecopark to pull off a daring rescue late last March. In total, they were able to rescue about 1,000 bats. Because spring was starting, they were able to release the bats into the wild.

Below you can watch some of them being let go, even as air raid sirens sound in the distance.

That is some true bravery by those conservationists!

The work continues

Anton and a colleague working to release the bats from the collider last March. (Alona Shulenko)

Even after this dramatic release, the work for Anton continues. He and his colleagues have been searching across the city for bats lost in damaged buildings. They then store them inside cloth bags inside fridges, where the cool temperatures help to induce (create) hibernation. Imagine having a fridge full of tiny bats—this is what Anton is doing to help keep them safe!

CBC asked him why he was continuing to risk so much by staying in Kharkiv and searching the city for these mammals.

"It's our contribution to general resistance," he told them. Alongside other citizens of Kharkiv who are staying to keep the city running, they are "all together keeping our country alive."

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